Recent analysis of leaked Oath Keepers membership rolls by the Anti-Defamation League indicates the growing presence of law enforcement, military and elected officials within militia movements.
This report is the latest in an alarming volume of evidence of a militant, conspiratorial vanguard building institutional power on the right. In forging direct links between vigilantism, law enforcement and elected office, this movement aims to consolidate control over what law and order means and to whom it applies.
Such a development is not surprising. Decades of scholarship on groups as wide ranging as the Ku Klux Klan, the Texas Rangers, lynch mobs, strikebreakers and veterans’ organizations indicate that the United States has always blurred the lines between political mainstream and extremist fringe. While this reality has been missing from popular memory, one particularly disturbing example stands at the forefront of one of the most iconic events in U.S. history: that of Edwin Walker, the decorated military officer charged with integrating Central High School in Little Rock in 1957.
As a figure like Walker shows, the mid-century triumphs of civil rights activists did force lawmakers to disavow white supremacy’s most militant defenders, ostensibly driving a greater wedge between mainstream and fringe. At the same time, mainstream and fringe figures continued to organize around kindred white supremacist policies and cultivate common enemies, even as their methods and rhetoric diverged.
Sixty-five years ago this week, the Little Rock School Integration Crisis reached its climax. After the Supreme Court’s ruling against school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, segregationist lawmakers in the South laid siege to the decision in united opposition to constitutional rights for Black people.
On Sept. 25, 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas National Guard and deployed an additional 1,000 troops under Walker’s command to address flagrant White defiance of an integration order by a U.S. District Court judge. Only under military guard and intense media scrutiny were the Black students known as the Little Rock Nine able to safely attend classes, even as Central High remained a snake pit of white supremacist antagonism.